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About 30 NASA engineers from across the agency will work with counterparts from United Launch Alliance (ULA) under a new agreement to begin qualifying the Atlas V rocket as a human-rated launch vehicle for private spacecraft being developed under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) effort.
Under a space act agreement (SAA), NASA and ULA will spend 6-9 months going though the Atlas V “part by part” to ensure it meets the human-rating requirements NASA has released in draft form. ULA also will continue work on the Emergency Detection System (EDS) it started developing with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding under last year’s CCDev-1 program. Each party will pay for its own work under the unfunded SAA.
“The modifications required for Atlas V are pretty minimal,” George Sowers, ULA vice president for business development, said in a press teleconference July 18. “Probably the major one from the launch vehicle standpoint is the addition of this Emergency Detection System.”
Under development for both Atlas V and Delta IV, which is in the running to launch the Lockheed Martin Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the EDS is a vehicle health-monitoring system designed to detect an imminent launch-vehicle failure and alert the crew riding atop it of the need to abort.
Companies developing two of the four CCDev-2 human spacecraft — the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting-body spaceplane and the Blue Origins capsule — have selected Atlas V as their preferred launcher, and Boeing is considering it for its CST-100 capsule. All three designs include launch-abort systems. In combination with the EDS and pad-escape systems also in development, the Atlas V should meet NASA’s human-certification requirements, Sowers says.
“I personally don’t foresee any additional redundancy requirements,” he says. “The Atlas V is currently single-fault tolerant in most of the active failure modes, but a detailed assessment of that down through all the different parts and failure modes is part of what we’re trying to accomplish during this SAA.”
Sowers says ULA already is working with Sierra Nevada and Blue Origins, using those companies’ CCDev-2 funding as well as its own, to adapt the EDS to their vehicles. Under the SAA with NASA, the company will develop hazard analyses to fly humans on the Atlas V, develop a probabilistic risk assessment of the vehicle’s safety and conduct a systems requirement review.
Full-scale certification of the vehicle as safe for flight will be conducted at the system level of launch and crew vehicles, according to Ed Mango, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. Mango says the agency hopes to have at least one commercial crew vehicle ready to fly — either on an Atlas V or the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 — by “mid-decade.”
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Negotiating with United Launch Alliance (ULA) is Lockheed Martin Space Systems regarding buying a Delta 4 Heavy launch for an unmanned test flight of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle in 2013 even though NASA has not committed to funding the demonstration.
According to NASA officials, the agency is still reviewing the cost and scope of the proposed unmanned Orion demonstration in the context of newly enacted legislation that calls for development by 2016 of a space capsule and heavy-lift rocket capable of taking astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.
But John Stevens, Lockheed Martin vice president of business development for the Orion program, said the Denver-based company simply doesn’t have time to wait for NASA to finish its review.
“If we’re going to meet the 2016 flight date specified in the authorization bill, we have to have a test flight in 2013,” he told Space News on Nov. 23, referring to language in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 that U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law Oct. 11. “So we’ve put our money down on this so we can reserve the launch slot for a 2013 test, because that’s what’s required to meet the 2016 date that Congress has set.”
Stevens declined to say how much money Lockheed Martin put down to begin formal negotiations with ULA, the Denver-based launch services provider jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Chicago-based Boeing Co. He said until NASA approves funding for the demo, “any monies we put down as a deposit are at risk.”
Chris Chavez, a ULA spokesman, refused to comment on the flight test, but said launch deposits are equally split between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which means Lockheed would forfeit half of its deposit monies if it is unable to reach a contractual agreement for the launch.
Lockheed Martin, which beat Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. and its teammate Boeing in 2006 for a $3.9 billion contract to design and build Orion, expects to complete the unmanned test flight, even though the Orion’s future has been in question since February when Obama proposed canceling the six-person capsule along with the rest of NASA’s moon-bound Constellation program.
The NASA Authorization Act the president finally signed into law in October ended up calling for development of a multipurpose crew vehicle — MPCV for short — ready by 2016 to carry astronauts on deep space missions, not just short jaunts back from the space station.
Although the law does not specify Orion as the MPCV it does direct NASA to leverage Orion hardware and designs when building it.
Despite Lockheed Martin’s unorthodox approach to acquiring a launch vehicle for the 2013 test, Stevens said the move squares with Obama’s new vision for NASA, which seeks to foster a market for commercially built rockets and hardware through a combination of public and private investment.
Stevens said Orion‘s original test regime included early flight tests of an un-crewed capsule to low Earth orbit atop Ares I. With NASA’s plan to discontinue the Ares family of rockets in favor of relying on privately developed transportation services, Orion’s scope and test objectives have changed.
“In the original plan [the test flight] was a predecessor to going to station,” he said. “Now we’re doing a more complete test of the vehicle, in some sense, than we were before.”
Stevens said the 2013 test flight Lockheed is planning would launch Orion into a highly elliptical orbit with a 17,000 kilometer apogee, setting up the capsule to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds it would encounter returning from a deep space mission.
“The notion is that you put it in a highly elliptical orbit so it has a higher re-entry speed than a low Earth orbit,” Stevens said. “As you come back down from the apogee of that orbit, you accelerate the vehicle so that we can achieve actual re-entry speeds that are the same as those from lunar orbits.”
Relative to previous test flights planned under the Constellation program, Stevens said the lunar variant of Orion that would be used to conduct the 2013 test would shed some subsystems for flight atop the Delta 4 heavy, which is capable of delivering about 25 metric tons of payload to low Earth orbit.